Moab’s recent Housing Fair was an important gathering that I was glad to be able to attend. Meaningful conversations happened among neighbors.  

In 2020 I regularly traveled throughout half of Utah’s 29 counties as the Democratic candidate for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. Earlier this year, I covered many of the rest as the presumptive Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. In both campaigns, Utahns cited housing affordability and “the drought” as top concerns.  

As a candidate for public office, my message was consistent:  “Utahns and Americans who own two or three homes need to find common ground with those working two or three jobs.” And that “water, water, water” should bring us together, in all 29 counties, as we conserve more. 

I visited Moab this week to learn more about the area’s housing crisis. A new bipartisan group called the Workforce Housing Alliance is being organized to address the challenge, not just in Grand County, but statewide. Along with me, the board includes Derek Brown, a former head of the Utah Republican Party. Our goal? To help implement real solutions on housing, statewide. 

While this Alliance will support initiatives without partisan litmus tests, a first donation (without my knowledge and ironically) was made to Grand County’s Republican Party. Our ongoing work has only one standard: finding and supporting problem-solvers across the entire state and without regard to party labels.  

Grand and San Juan could become models for the rest of the state, particularly if SITLA (School and Institutional Trust Land Administration) parcels can be further prioritized for workforce housing. This land is managed for the benefit of Utah’s educational system. A key question today might be: How can Utah’s kids learn if so many parents are struggling to find places to live? That kind of disruption is damaging to all — be it first graders in Moab or students in Enoch trying to graduate from high school on time.  

Up north, a heated discussion on a proposed multi-use project in Summit County led to five hours of community dialogue. A well-organized and energized group of attendees wore red t-shirts. This was their signal of opposition. I could not help but wonder: when will we get our green t-shirts put on and get even louder in order to advance housing solutions that will benefit the families of Utah’s teachers, police officers, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees, as well as critical service workers, like landscapers, restaurant employees, airport and road maintenance crews, plumbers, mechanics, and so on.  

Stopping things is easier than moving solutions forward. 

On my own campaign trails, I often said, “NIMBYISM and nostalgia are not a strategy.” The days of enough cheap acreage in Utah for big front and back lawns and Mayberry-like quietude are, for better and for worse, gone.   

Every time I visit Moab I stay at the Big Horn. The last two times the names on the envelopes left in my room for a tip have read “Manuela” and “Yamilet.” The measure of success will be if these two motel housekeepers are able to find housing in town or keep it if they have it.  

I look forward to more visits to Southeastern Utah to help find solutions to the area’s housing crisis, mirrored across many other parts of Utah. 

Kael Weston  

Salt Lake City